JUSTICE LEAGUE

35

The Second Social
 

Rosma got the maroon and black beaded dress out of the master suite's walk-in closet, examined it critically, and nodded. "That will do."

"What will?" Oreo came into the room, closing the door behind her and locking it with their special key. She then collapsed face first on the bed.

"This dress." Rosma gestured at it. "For the costume social. How was decorating? I left early."

"Let's not discuss that right now." Oreo frowned into her pillow.

"That bad, huh? Even after X-Raytor’s speech?"

"You heard that?" Oreo turned over and sat up.

"Yeah, but I left right after it. Studmuffin did, too. I don't think people noticed."

"I didn't. Where did the two of you go? Did you convince him to come to the social with you?"

"I told him that he had to come with me whether he wanted to or not. And I told him that he had to wear a tuxedo. He got up and left after that. I didn't follow him, though. I just came back here. I think he's tired of me."

"Oh." Oreo finally took a good look at the dress. "That seems somehow familiar. If you're wearing that, and he's wearing a tuxedo, who are you going as?"

Rosma smiled. "We're going to be Rose and Jack. From Titanic."

"And you just happened to have a dress like hers?"

"Um...yes?"

"And you just happened to bring it with you on this cruise?"

"....yes?"

Oreo shrugged. "Okay. Do you even know the number of jokes that will come from that?"

"I can only imagine." Rosma turned to put the dress back in the closet. "But the real question is whether or not Studmuffin will show up at the party."

"Has he told you what's wrong with him yet?"

"Nothing. But I'm still trying."

***

“Moon Prism POWER!” Oreo Avenger shouted, thrusting her hand into the air.

“You’ve been doing that every five minutes since you put that costume on,” Rosma remarked.

“I can’t help it!” Oreo said. “I’m just so excited!” She flew around the room, singing at the top of her lungs. “Fighting evil by moonlight! Winning love by daylight! Never running from a real fight! She is the one named Sailor Moon!”

“Okay!” Rosma yelled, emerging from the closet. “How do I look?”

Oreo landed and looked her friend over. She was dressed as Rose from Titanic, with the swishy maroon dress and black beads.

“Great!” Oreo said. “Where’d you get the dress, anyway?”

“I’ve had it,” Rosma said. “Are you ready to go?”

“One moment.” Oreo checked herself one last time in the mirror. The skirt, of course, came from Scarlett, the white leotard and gloves from Crystal, the sailor collar from, of all people, Captain Seabiscuit, and the bows from a pair of curtains Rosma graciously donated. The tiara had been a gift from the Violet Princess a couple years ago. The boots were Oreo’s own. The colors were reversed, a red skirt instead of blue and blue boots instead of red, but it all looked nice together. Oreo tugged on one of her buns.

“Rosma, can you fix my hair?”

The buns were her own hair, tightly gathered on either side of her head. Long strips of reddish fabric (another unfortunate curtain) hung down from each one. It was the closest Oreo could come to Sailor Moon’s long blond pigtails.

“Okay,” Rosma said, giving Oreo’s head a final pat. “Let’s go!”

They made their way through the deserted top decks. Everyone was either at the party or getting ready for it. Oreo looked up at the topmost deck and saw a lone figure outlined against the stars.

“Isomorphix’s not coming?”

“Doesn’t look like it.” Rosma looked at the figure. “Truthfully, I’m surprised I even got him on board.”

They walked in silence for a bit.

“I wonder if Isomorphix can break dance,” Oreo mused aloud.

“Nah,” Rosma said. She smothered a giggle. “Ballroom dancing’s more his thing.”

Oreo laughed. “I can’t imagine him dancing without a sword in his hand.”

“That’s his specialty,” Rosma pointed out. “Ballroom sword dancing. Ballswordan.”

“Of course, his partner would have to be very careful,” Oreo continued.

“That’s why nobody does Ballswordan much. Too dangerous.”

“I hear it’s outlawed in thirty-nine states.”

“Indeed it is, Oreo. Indeed it is.”

They arrived outside the dance floor. Rosma looked around worriedly.

“I don’t see Studmuffin anywhere. I’d better get him and he’d better be in costume,” Rosma said darkly.

“I’ll see you later,” Oreo said to Rosma’s back.

Captain Seabiscuit stopped Oreo at the entrance. He was serving, after much argument, as a herald, announcing each person and their costume before they entered. He was dressed, unsurprisingly, in his finest captain’s clothes.

“Name and name of costume?” he asked politely.

“Oreo Avenger as Sailor Moon.”

Captain Seabiscuit cleared his throat. “Announcing Miss Oreo Avenger as Sailor Moon!”

They entered the room together. The lights were all dimmed except for the single spotlight shining on the disco ball. Streamers and balloons hung everywhere and masks dotted the walls.

Most of the Justice League was already there. Drew was at the front of the room, ginning crazily behind a computer as she hooked up the last of the speakers. Netic and Midnight Chatter stood nearby, he chattering about nothing and she helpfully pointing out what Drew missed. Scarlett and Raven sat comfortably while X-Raytor and Right-Wing Man browsed the dessert table. The dance floor itself was empty except for Pinzz and Crystal lurching about awkwardly under their Ax costume.

“Announcing Miss Twisk as a fire hydrant, escorted by Mister Eric as the Emperor from the Emperor’s New Clothes.”

“Ah HA!”

Oreo turned toward the voice and saw Xiao striding toward her, dragging Llamamatix and Typho behind her. Typho wore a suit with a black cape and top hat and a cane clutched in one fist. The llama was maybe dressed as a black cat. It was hard to tell because he kept eating parts of his costume. Xiao was dressed as Sailor Moon.

“A plot from the Negaverse!” Xiao said to the llama. The llama blinked placidly and tried to get at the cat ears tied to his head. “A fake Sailor Moon!”

“I just got the colors switched around,” Oreo said.

Xiao made a complicated series of hand and arm movements, saying, “I am the soldier of love and justice, Sailor Moon! In the name of the moon,” she finished, pointing at Oreo, “I shall punish you!”

“Okay,” Oreo said.” She knew Xiao had been a little unbalanced since Fred tore himself away, but this was getting weird. “I’m going to go away from here now.” She turned to get a glass of punch.

“Don’t turn your back on me, Negascum! Moon Tiara MAGIC!”

Oreo took to the sky as a tiara flew threw where her head used to be. It circled the room before Xiao neatly caught it in her hand. She replaced it on her head. A pervasive beat started as Drew finished hooking up the sound system.

“Luna, she dodged it!” Xiao whined at Llamamatrix. She cocked her head as if listening to him talk. “You’re right. I can’t give up!”

“Announcing Miss Rosma Galek as Rose, escorted by Mister Studmuffin as Jack.”

Oreo landed in front of Xiao with a thump. Raising her Crescent Moon Wand (a pink stick with a large crescent moon on the end), she inscribed a large circle in the air. “Moon Healing Act-iv-ATION!”

“I like your wand,” Xiao said. “Where’d you get it?”

“Ebay,” Oreo said.

“That’s where I got this!” Xiao pulled her own wand from a pack on Llamamatrix’s back and pointed it at Oreo. It was also pink, with a shiny red ball on the end. The music swelled as a guitar joined the drums. “Moon Scepter E-lima-NATION!”

“Ha!” Oreo dove for the llama’s pack and took out yet another one, this one vaguely sword shaped. “Moon Gorgeous Med-i-TATION!”

“Ha back at you! You need Sailor Chibi Moon to complete that attack!”

“Do not!” Oreo yelled.

Suddenly Xiao reached over and pulled one of Oreo’s pigtails. The entire piece of cloth ripped away from Oreo’s head.

“An imposter!” crowed Xiao.

“Give that back!” Oreo shouted. She lunged forward to grab her pigtail but came away with Xiao’s bow instead. Oreo jumped away, looking puzzled at the red bow in her hand.

With a shriek of fury, Xiao launched herself at Oreo, tackling her to the ground. They rolled around, scratching and pulling hair.

“This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen,” X-Raytor commented.

“Word,” Typho agreed. He watched, enraptured, as Xiao upended the punch bowl over Oreo’s head. He didn’t even notice Llamamatrix until the fifth time he butted him.

“What?” Typho asked, not taking his eyes from the fight. Netic tried to separate the two and got bit on the hand for her troubles.

The llama grew tired of trying to catch Typho’s attention and started rooting around in his tuxedo pockets.

“Yo, dawg, I don’t swing that way!” Typho tried to push Llamamatrix away, but the llama wouldn’t budge. Nothing can deter a determined llama. Finally he pulled out a pair of roses, carefully holding them in his mouth.

“For real?” Typho asked incredulously. The llama nodded. On the dance floor, Crystal and Pinzz inside their Ax costume were pushed to the ground when they cluelessly wandered into the fight. Typho sighed and threw the two roses. They hit each wrestling girl in the head.

“Hey!” Oreo looked around. “Someone just threw a rose at me!”

“Tuxedo Mask!” Xiao cried.

A Mexican guitar played, accompanied by the clicking of castanets.

Typho cleared his throat. “Like a grasshopper and an any, you two should be working together instead of pointlessly battling. Sailor Moon, do not fight other Sailor Scouts!” He swished his cape, adding, “Forshizzle.”

Xiao stood up and dusted herself off. Helping Oreo to her feet, she said, “Tuxedo Mask is right. But there can only be one Sailor Moon.”

Oreo looked down at her ruined costume. No way those punch stains were coming out. Miraculously, Xiao’s costume looked untouched.

“I’m going to change,” Oreo said. “You’ve the entourage and everything, so you must be the real Sailor Moon.”

“And don’t you forget it!” Xiao said. “So what’s your new costume?”

“Old costume, actually,” Oreo said, leaving the room.

***

"Yeah! And let that be a lesson to all servants of the Negaverse and the Dark Moon!" Ari pumped her fist into the air and then spun into a pose. Tux-er, Typho swished his cape theatrically. Llamamatrix sat on the ground and began eating what he could reach of his costume's remains. Pinzz and Crystal were struggling to get back up and just getting more entangled in their costume.

"C'mon Dari- uh, Tuxedo Mask! Let's see if someone spiked the punch!" She turned to Fred Jr. "Stay Lunamatrix, stay! And remember don't eat anything that doesn't belong to you..."

Llamamatrix/Lunamatrix continued chewing the final pieces of his costume, and managed to wiggle his fluffy ears and shake off the cat ones, which he promptly bit into.

"Fo'Shizzle! Dang yo, be out with my woman now!" Tyhpho twirled his remaining rose between his fingers. "When do I get to meet the rest of these Scouts? Raye is..er...You're the most ass-kickin' Scout though...er...Oh, forget it." A sexy Mexican guitar played, followed by some sexy clicking castanets.

***

Scarlett surveyed the room, happily surprised to realize that the social had just begun, and she was enjoying herself for the first time in a long time. She and X-y looked better than "Lolita" Lana and "Badass" Clark; thus far, X-Raytor had been a perfect gentleman, or at least a perfect gentleman in the sense that she hadn't caught him looking through her clothes any more than usual; and for once, she and Oreo were no longer the focus of everyone's snide remarks.

Scarlett was silently thankful for Pinzz and Crystal and their costume choice. The look on Right Wing Man's face when the two of them had walked in "together" had been priceless.

"Stop freezing me from back there or I swear I'll--arggh!" Pinzz yelled. Apparently Crystal was not exactly thrilled about being Ax's hindquarters.

Very amusing.

However, in surveying the room and doing a brief headcount, Scarlett noticed that someone was missing. Isomorphix. How predictable.

Scarlett opened a sliding glass door at the far end of the dance hall and went outside to the most secluded part of the ship. There was a pool, and the railing backed up to the edge of the ship. Isomorphix was standing there, looking out at the setting sun.

"Iso?"

Silence. Well, except for the music thumping from the social.

"You had a phone call, Iso."

"Any message?"

"Yeah. It was the people from the Matrix. They want their coat back."

"Funny."

"You're not smiling."

"Nor do I listen to Bob Marley."

"You're such a liar, Iso," Scarlett said with a grin. Iso sighed dismissively.

"Come on, just spend five minutes at the social. Have some fun for once. Drink some punch, at the very least--as far as I know, no one's spiked it yet."

More silence.

"Look, Iso, I know you think the social's a frivolous waste of time, and I guess you're allowed to look at it that way if you want to. But I just can't see how spending time--even if it's doing essentially nothing--with people you care about...these people you might die with...or even die for...I just don't understand how you can see that as a waste of time...but hey, that's your prerogative."

Scarlett stood there for another moment, looking uncomfortably out at the ocean. "Anyways, I'm gonna go back now. At least think about showing up and having fun, okay?" She paused briefly, wondering if she could be blunt enough to say what else she was thinking, and if it would sound like a cheap shot, or if it would even mean anything to him at all.

"Violet would have wanted you to at least make an appearance, Iso."

***

"Captain Seabiscuit--Seabiscuit, why, that's a fine name you've got there. What's the ship named, the Gravy Boat?"

Captain Seabiscuit just stared, very confused. "What are you doing here on the bridge...er, cockpit...er...wherever it is we are?"

"I am commandeering this magnificent ship, Captain Seabiscuit...now, Seabiscuit, that's what, Dijboutian? Very evil, if you don't mind me complimenting you."

***

Scarlett walked back to the social, which wasn't far seeing how it was just a sliding glass door away. X-Raytor stode up to her as "Angel in the Centerfold" started to play. Scarlett cringed.

"You don't like this song?" X-Raytor asked, incredulous.

"Oh, no, it's a great song...just well, you know. Certain songs get tainted over time. Kinda like--" Scarlett stopped midsentence.

"Like what?"

"Nothing. Hey, would you be really sweet and get me some punch?"

"Uh, sure, I guess. But remember, you promised you'd dance with me!"

"I wouldn't have asked you if that wasn't the point, X-y."

"Okay. Next song then."

"Sounds good," Scarlett said with a smile.

X-Raytor made his way, slowly, to the refreshments table. Slowly mostly because Pinzz and Crystal were still flailing about in their costume. Somehow, Crystal had gotten turned around inside it seemed, and now they were going back and forth like a push-me pull-you.

Scarlett, meanwhile, was focused on something else entirely. She made her way over to table across the room where Drew was DJing. She looked extremely happy to be using electronics once again. "Drew."

"Scarlett."

"Drew, what I'm about to tell you is extremely important."

"What, that Midnight Chatter didn't come with you or Oreo so both of you have been bickering pointlessly this whole time? Tell that to Oreo."

"No, not that. Look, whatever you do, don't play any Blink 182."

"What? What's wrong with Blink?"

"Nothing, just...you weren't here for the last social. Trust me. No good can come of playing Blink 182 at a superhero social."

"No Blink? At all?"

"Okay, fine, just not What's My Age Again?"

"Oookay."

"Look, if you have to play it...well, just give me some heads up, okay? And make sure you've got a blindfold handy."

***

"He's approaching the punch."

"....."

"Wait for it...wait for it......okay, keep waiting...."

"....."


"Now!"

Ari popped up from behind the table the punch bowl was on, brandishing one of many of her scepters. She smacked Clark's/X-y's hand away from the punch.

"Aahahahahahaahahaha! Evil Negaversh shum!" She started giggling maddly. "I.....*hehehe*will *haha* defeatsh you!"

"Uhh... Right then." Clark/X-Raytor backed away slowly, massaging his injured hand, and then at a safe distant turned tail and ran back to Lana/Scarlet.

"Where's my drink?" Scarlett asked.

"Umm..they...didn't...have enough left..." X-y said, sitting down, still rubbing his hand.

"What do you mean? I can see the punch bowl from here and it's still halfway full."

"I think we can safely say it's halfway empty and we best not take punch from those who seem to need it so badly."

"There's not even a line!"

***

X- -Raytor ran a finger over his Smallville High class ring (actually his Hugo Danner High ring, but, hey, not like anyone would notice), and he could almost feel the power radiating from it. Sure, his parents were worried that the red meteor rocks were having some strange effect on him, but what did they know?

They weren't his real parents, anyway. The Kents had just been lucky enough to find him in that meteor shower, so it wasn't like they could order him around. Not that he cared if they tried- he could pick up that stupid red truck and toss it through the f***ing LuthorCorp Fertilizer Plant and no one would be able to do s***.

He was more concerned with his girl options right now, anyway. There was that Jessie girl who had just showed up, who was certainly a fine piece of tail. It looked like her dad was in the Witness Protection Program, so there was another benefit- if he got tired of her he could just turn 'em both in and get some sort of sweet reward.

And then there were his stand-by girls, Scarl- er, Lana, and Chloe. Lana had been in his sights for a good long while now, even though she was little miss "Fairy Princess." Well, if all fairy princesses were built like that, X-RayClark wanted a one-way ticket to f***ing Fairy Land. He was still waiting for her to ask him to screw her on the counter of the Talon, but, hey, he could wait.

And then there was Chloe, who hadn't really seemed like an option before. But, as with so many things, it seemed that the red-meteor-rock-ring was letting him see a bit more clearly. "Wall of Weird," huh? Probably meant she liked to get kinky, and, hey, he was a meteor freak, right? Besides, all of those late night hours working in the Torch office- she was definately trying to get him to make a move. Well, Ms. Sullivan, hold on, 'cause you're about to get the story of your life...

He flexed a muscle, because he could. Unlike the rest of these limp-noodle losers here, he was a Man, that's "Man" with a capital "M." Sure, his name was sorta weak- "Clark Kent"- but, hey, once he hit the big time in Metropolis or Edge City or wherever, he could have that changed. He was the only Man in this stupid hick town anyway- everyone else was either a meteor rock-sucking mutant or just a loser.

And for some reason, they were all trying to f***ing cut in on his game. That little Bug-Boy s***, Greg Arkin? What the hell did he think he was doing, stalking Lana and then trying to f*** with Clark? But, hey, he'd squashed Bug-Boy ("boy" being the operative word) pretty good, so there goes that one. And then Sean Kelvin and Justin Gaines, who had been smart enough not to cut in on Lana, but just stupid enough to go after Chloe. And that Kelvin f***er had even tried to freeze him! Well, he was pretty f***ing dead, so who was the bitch now? And Justin Gaines- even with the telekinesis, he was just a little art @#%$ with a broken wrist. Get the f*** over it, you whiny little bitch.

He even had chicks trying to cut in, like that stupid f***ing Tina Greer. But, hey, he'd shown her where she belonged. She was a B+ at best, anyway, even though that shape shifting thing was sort of kinky...

But, yeah, he was the only man, the only Man, because the football team had no balls, and Pete was still going through puberty, and Van McNulty was just a little camo-wearing dips***, and Eric Summers, even when he had stolen his powers, still had a tool the size of a peanut, and Whitney Fordman was a f***ing GIRL!!!

It just pissed him off, and when he got pissed off, he needed something to cool him down. He stood up, and went looking for Lana.

He pushed his way through the other people on the dance floor, shoving them just enough that he wasn't using his amazing strength. He was about to go check the tables when something else caught his eye.

"Well, well, well!" Clark said. "How's it going, sailor?"

Xiao looked at him blearily. "Who are you shupposhed to be, Fonzhie?"

Clar- X-Raytor stiffened. "Huh? Uh..."

"Yo man, don't be dishreshpectin' my woman like that!" Typho said, stumbling.

"Er, uh, sorry about that," X-Raytor said. "I got a little too into character... Have either of you seen La- er, Scarlett?"

He then looked down at Llamamatrix, who was wearing cat ears. He looked back up at Xiao and Typho. "You know what, never mind. Nice... cat..."

X-Raytor walked away, feeling significantly deflated. How come he couldn't be Clark Kent? He would make a good Clark Kent! He had the x-ray vision, at the very least...

"Oh, there you are," Scarlett/Slutty Lana from "Nicodemus" said, walking up. X-Raytor glanced down at her calf-high boots, and then looked back up.

"Uh, hey," he said. "If was just, you know, chillin',"

"Okay," Scarlett said. "I think they refilled the punch bowl, so, uh, if you're thirsty..."

"I am a little thirsty," X-Raytor said.

"I can tell." Scarlett said. Pause. "Which means stop looking at my chest."

"Huh? What? Oh!" X-Raytor looked up. "I was just, uh, admiring your costume!"

"Uh huh."

"Anyway, punch, you were saying?"

"Yeah," Scarlett said. "And I think we should get some now before someone knock- hey! Hey, my boobs aren't talking to you!"

"Oh, come on!" X-Raytor whined. "You're supposed to be slutty Lana! Can't we at least go make out in the pool?"

"No." Scarlett said. "Though I could just push you in."

"We could do that," X-Raytor said. "But to recreate the scene accurately, you'll have to be wet and stripped down to nothing but a bra and panties."

X-Raytor ducked as Scarlett tried to smack him. "Hey! I just want to get the details of the show right!"

"Let's just go get some punch," Scarlett said.

"And then can we go skinny dipping, like in 'Slumber'?"

"Uh... we'll see."

***

Bob Marley.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Bob Marley. The reggae singer had become the infatuation of choice for a certain Justice Leaguer, and it certainly was not Isomorphix.

Perhaps there’s more to this ‘Bob Marley’ than I originally anticipated? Iso contemplated. Or perhaps Scarlett is just losing her mind?

Looking down from the crow’s nest, Isomorphix could see the upper deck and the faint lights and sounds of music wafting through the sliding glass door Scarlett Fyre had disappeared through.

"Violet would have wanted you to at least make an appearance, Iso."

Those were her last words before she had left.

“Humph.”

Iso managed to let out an audible bit of scorn at the thought. What would she know what Violet would have wanted? Last time he checked, Scarlett didn’t list telepathy as a superhuman ability.

And besides, even if she was right and Violet would have wanted it, what would that have mattered? It wasn’t his duty to appease his ‘fellow’ Leaguers. His prerogative was to do what was required, not wanted. Wants were a luxury that couldn’t be afforded.

No luxuries ever can be, Iso thought darkly, looking out across the star-speckled night.

The yacht sailed smoothly through the ocean, the only sound that of the ship’s hull gliding through the waters. And the faint sounds of the party, of course. But other than that, it was a fairly serene night.

Might as well check up on Seabiscuit…now is as good a time as ever, Iso decided, starting for the ladder.

After all, the crow’s nest was right above the bridge; it would only be a short trip down to see what the good captain was up to.

Just as he reached to top rung, something caught his eye - a figure, out on the aft end of the vessel. From where Isomorphix stood, it looked as if he were sunbathing. Except it wasn’t even day.

Odd.

The man wasn’t someone from the JL. And he wasn’t Captain Seabiscuit, either. One thing was certain, even at this distance: the man was bald.

The swordsman climbed down the ladder, bypassing the bridge and heading straight down to the upper deck. Touching down on the ground, he stealthily sneaked back around the pool and past a few cargo crates until he was directly behind the stranger.

Iso was about to speak up when the bald-headed man beat him to it.

“Well, well… it certainly took you long enough.”

His voice was deep, and held a certain air of authority to its confident tone. In fact, the confidence bordered on certainty; as if he could see the trenchcoat-clad vigilante through eyes in the back of his head.

Iso was taken somewhat aback - he had not made a whisper in his approach.

“Don’t just stand there, sit down… make yourself comfortable.”

A finely muscled arm gestured towards a recliner located conveniently next to the enigmatic visitor’s own seat. Upon closer inspection, Iso noticed that the two foldout loungers had been taken from the poolside. It was almost as if this man had expected his company.

Slowly, Isomorphix circled around until he could get a clear view of the mystery man.

He was Mr. Clean.

Well, no, he wasn’t - Mr. Clean was a fictional character designed to sell a general household cleaner. But if the master of tidiness could exist, he would be the guy relaxing before him now. Although, the muscular man was a dead ringer for the popular marketing personality, there were a few differences. For one, he was tanned. The complexion was almost Middle Eastern, by Iso’s analysis. Two, in addition to the traditional earring on his left ear, he also sported one on his right. A large golden ring adorned his left hand middle finger, as well. Thirdly, the man donned a Hawaiian T-shirt, a pair of knee-length shorts, and some sandals. And was obviously attempting to soak up nonexistent sunlight.

There was something else about him, though… an aura of power that seemed to almost emanate from his body like a physical thing. Nothing that could be seen, just felt. Maybe that was a bit of an over-exaggeration, but there was definitely a commanding presence about him.

“Bad time to be out sunbathing,” Iso stated simply.

“Now, whoever said I was sunbathing?”

Isomorphix gave the stranger a look.

“This is starbathing,” the mystery figure explained, pointing up towards the heavens.

There was a new moon, so the absence of the large, white orb only accentuated the twinkling pinpricks all the more.

“Celestial magiks and the twisting energies that come from the depths of the Great Beyond can be harnessed and used for a great, many things,” the stranger continued, and then smiled at Isomorphix’s unaltered expression.

“Who are you? How and why have you come aboard this vessel?”

Iso was sure that no one other than the Justice League had boarded the yacht before setting sail. Had the stranger been on the vessel beforehand? No. Isomorphix had checked the ship stem to stern shortly after departure and found nothing out of the ordinary. There were no signs of boats approaching during the night, either.

How did this crazy man get on board?

“Crazy? Come now, give me a little more respect than that,” the man said, his pupils making direct contact with Iso’s.

Did he just read my…

The swordsman’s eyes narrowed, and he reached for the hilt of his… bouquet of flowers?!

Isomorphix looked absently between the collection of assorted flora and the amused presence that still looked at him with a certain gleam in his eye.

He could read his thoughts. He could alter matter. He could…

Suddenly, everything around Isomorphix started to slow down. The yacht started to feel as if it were moving through molasses instead of just water. The few, isolated wisps of gray clouds began to affix themselves to the sky. Even the sounds coming from the Sadie Hawkins dance began to warble until they disappeared completely. It was as if someone had put the VCR from play, into slow motion, and then finally to pause.

…stop time?!

Looking about him, Iso appeared as if he were standing in a black-and-white photograph. The only thing not devoid of color was himself, the… well… whatever it was that sat across from him, and the flowers he still gripped in his right hand.

Neurons synapsed and fired in his brain, attempting to come up with a hypothesis. Only one kind of force Isomorphix had predicted up to this point wielded power on anything near this level, and they were…

The voices. Is this being responsible for the Seekers? For the manipulation? Iso thought, shooting a suspicious glance at what would normally look like an average beach-goer.

“No. The Intellects have nothing to do with me. In fact, they don’t even know that I exist. Had they, their plans may have been different. But that is not what my visit is about. I set out to find someone, and now realize that they are no longer here.”

“What are you talking about? What are you and what did you do?” Iso repeated again, boring a cold glare into the other.

“I suppose I should begin by answering your questions,” the being stated matter-of-factly, not in the least bit affected by the mortal’s gaze.

“I did not freeze time - I merely froze us. The strands of Eternity flow normally for the others on this vessel of yours. Our strands have only been held so that the outside world doesn’t interfere in this affair.

“As for who I am, my name is Ahud’ruk - and I am a Jinni. Also known as a Jinn or the race of d’Jinn. The last of my kind on this Earth. I’m sure you have heard the stories throughout the history of your people. You can call me Rick.

“And finally, what I want. What I want… or rather, what I require,” the Jinni said with a meaningful expression, “is your help.”

“You need my help?” Isomorphix asked doubtfully.

“Sit down,” the Jinni all but commanded. “And let me tell you the tale of a twelve year old girl who wanted to become royalty.”

***

Ari wandered over to another table where Crystal and Pinzz were sitting, after finally giving up on their costume. Well, it was more of a stumbling, drunken shuffle than a walk, but she got there without too much trouble.

"Thish sheat took?" She slurred. "GOOD!"

"Uh. Yeah. Make yourself at home why don't you." Crystal moved a few seats away as Ari collapsed onto three separate chairs. A few seconds later they heard snoring, and a thump.

"Ouch. That's going to bruise," Pinzz said, then went back to her small plate of cookies.

"I'll trade you a buttermilk for a chocolate chip." Crystal said, holding up a cookie.

"Are you kidding? Give up a chocolate chip's yummy goodness-"

"DATA!" Ari suddenly shouted in her sleep. They heard a noise as she moved to sit up, then a bang as she hit her head and a thump as she fell over again.

"You're on," Pinzz said, handing her the cookie.

Meanwhile Typho was still hogging the punch bowl and demanding that anyone who wanted some punch would have to beat his "fosheezy nizzle bangin powersh".

Llamamatrix/Lunamatrix was stealing the snack foods off the plates every once in awhile, after eating some of the decorations left him with a glue taste in his mouth.

"Yo cat, ya sh...shood be Artemish, know whatsh I'm sayin'?"

The llama looked at him for a moment, then went back to eating, after rolling his eyes. If llamas can roll their eyes, that is.

"Yo dawg I'm talkin' ta....." His words trailed off. "Scharlett looksh hot as Lana in that costhume. But I'sh tell ya, I don't getsh off on the whole Ax thing." He drained another plastic cup of punch, and put it at the top of the pyramid he'd been laboring over, which was now ten cups tall. "Shhrizzlneldizznel!" He expleted now that he'd finished.

"Yo llama guard the punch. I'sh got ta requesht a shong." He laughed at the word "shong" and staggered over to Drew.

"You got a request?" Drew asked, as a song ended. "I'll warn you before hand- no Blink, and no Bob Marley. Oh, and no Moulin Rouge, as I was warned of the consequences if I desecrated the song by playing it on such unholy ground."

"Yesh. Play the biznitchin BROTHAS GIBB YO! Shaturday Night Fevah, that'sh what I'm talkin about, dawg!!!!!!" He aimed for the sky to pump his fist but missed and hit the DJ table instead. "Whoopsh."

***

"Gah! You got crumbs on my cape!" She brushed them off as Typho staggered off to bother someone else.

Drew was very proud of her costume. Sure, it was done in three minutes time, and sure, Eric didn’t know that she had swiped his superman T-shirt (He never wore it, anyway), but she was proud of her costume.

Drew flipped the blue towel/cape over her shoulder and scanned through her list of MP3’s. One caught her eye.

Drew looked up. Scarlett was across the room. She should call her over.

But, then she might tell her she couldn’t play it.

Curiosity overwhelmed Drew. After all, she wasn’t at the last dance, so she couldn’t know of the chaos that may follow.

Drew hit play.

I took her out, it was a Friday night
I wore cologne to get the feeling right . . .


***

“No, in fact, I am not a ‘generic knight’, you pusillanimous @#%$.” Mattias was petulant - well, more so than usual. But hey, Typho was being ignorant - just as much as usual.

“Ahem,” Mattias began: “I am Aragorn son of Arathorn son of Arathorn, Lord of the Dunedain, Lord of Gondor, Lord of the Race of Men…” Typho started screening out the crimefighting conservative at this point, as everyone tended to do, and became subconsciously enthralled with the up-and-down waving of the cardboard-and-duct tape (Right-Wing Man had a lot of duct tape, he had noticed once) RWM was doing to the beat of his voice, his holt-holding hand bobbing nonchalant by his crotch.

“But you don’t look like the Aragorn from the mov-“

Mattias’ face reddened to the color of the punch he wasn’t drinking. “Phhht - .” When Mattias talked in words that meant he was boring, or at least offensive, but when he went onomatopoeic, you knew he was angry. “But, but - text…” he motioned up with the phallic metonymy, “…film…” he intoned down lower “…must…control…anger…”

“Is this some sort of, uh, conservative thing?” Raven seemed to be providing a pensiveness to counterbalance the petulance - one might judge them on that basis to be a perfect match. Raven, for her part was cursing Scarlett under her breath. Go screw yourself… what I’d be better off doing right now…

“No.” X-Raytor, definitive. “It’s a fanboy thing” He smiled one of those huge grins, a jubilant row of teeth for geek solidarity.

Here’s to whoever spiked the punch, Raven figured. Or, maybe he dances better than he talks…

But Mattias had noticed none of this exchange. I mean, really, they even took out the Scourging of the Shire!

***

Raven sighed, smoothing her pink party dress. Well, here she was, dressed as a princess. Princess Arwen Undomiel, her 29th foray into the world of Princess Maker 2, and a nice match for Right-Wing Man's costume.

After cursing Scarlett, she started cursing the name Arwen. After all, Princess Specimen 29/Arwen Undomiel had been her deepest foray into madness. She'd drawn up a bunch of charts and done a bunch of calculation to get a formula that would guarantee her the Ruling Queen ending, without even using the money cheat. She'd grabbed a book someone had left by the computer, chose the name Arwen, and executed her plan, only to fall short a few points and get Prime Minister. She'd dragged the files to the trash and vowed to never play Princess Maker 2 again, ever. She had the next day, of course.

And Arwen seemed to be a cursed name as far as Raven was concerned, because RWM hadn't been the best of dates. She'd danced once. Once. Then there was the whole "conventional woman" dream that RWM seemed to be desperately pursuing and...she shook her head. No use dwelling on it. No, this called for action.

She spotted Scarlett in a corner of the room, and headed over.
"You owe me a dance." she said. "You owe me a dance because people aren't allowing me to drink punch cause I'm only 16, even though Xiao's allowed. You owe me a dance because I've only danced once tonight, and it was during some sort of Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeey Yaaaaaaaaaaaaa song that reminded me of those Hot-Dog Men-remember them? And most of all..." Raven leaned in. "You owe me a dance because it will burn my date, and turn yours on."

Then she frowned. "By the way, where is X-y?"

***

As the first strains of the Blink 182 song filtered through the room, everyone turned to X-Raytor who was, in fact, acting quite normally.

That is when the threat came from he whom everyone had forgotten. It should have been apparent that he was the most likely candidate, but everyone's attention having been drawn to X-y did prove to be a fatal mistake.

“This is my song!” Eric screamed, tossing aside the glass of punch and the tablecloth someone had tied around him.

"WEEEEEEEE!" he yelled, running down the center of the dance floor.

Meanwhile, Oreo Avenger skulked around the edges of the room, waiting for the opportune moment. In an operation like this, timing was everything. She slowly snuck up to her quarry, making use of the meager hiding places. When the ground cover disappeared, she took to the sky. People rarely looked up. Most were distracted by naked Eric sprinting through the room. There was a half-hearted effort to stop him, but when it all comes down to it, no one wants to tackle a naked man.

There he was, by the punch bowl, about to pour a scoop in a glass. Oreo dropped, taking half the streamers down with her. She landed lightly in front of X-Raytor. The streamers descended on Eric, tangling him up and ending his run before the song was half over.

“So I was wondering…”

X-Raytor stared blankly at her, glass raised halfway to his mouth. Oreo poked him.

“You saw up my skirt, didn’t you?”

X-Raytor jumped. “What purple panties?”

“So no more flying while in this costume.”

“You know,” X-Raytor said, leaning close. “Scarlett and me might be having a little party at the pool, clothing optional.” For the first time in her memory, Oreo saw X-Raytor’s leer unobstructed by a mask.

“No you’re not,” she said dismissively.

“But we could!”

“It would never happen,” Oreo said. She looked X-Raytor over. “What’s your costume supposed to be?”

X-Raytor struck a pose. “Smallville’s very own Clark Kent.”

“I don’t think Clark Kent ever wore leather pants.”

“I’m Badass Clark Kent!” X-Raytor whined. “Can’t you tell? I’m totally badass!”

Oreo giggled. “You sound just like Typho.”

“I do NOT!” X-Raytor sputtered.

“All you need is some primary colored Spandex and you could be twins!”

“Yeah…well…that’s a really short skirt.”

“I haven’t worn this Rainbow Bright costume in years.” Oreo tugged on the hem of the skirt. “I didn’t even know Rosma packed it.”

“Uh-huh”

“Anyway, I was wondering if…” Oreo cleared her throat. “So, if you have no objections, we’re going to dance now.”

Oreo pulled X-Raytor on to the dance floor without waiting for him to voice a complaint. A slow song with a strong beat, to give them some time to talk, in full view of Scarlett. Oreo didn’t want to be accused of stealing away Scarlett’s date.

What’s my age aga-ain the song ended. At the computer, Drew started the new song. Frankly, she’d been disappointed by the reaction to Blink. A streaking Eric just wasn’t special enough to warrant a song banned. Now was time to throw all the musical restrictions out and really see what could happen.

A new song started, a song of hot Argentinean nights, a familiar song with the beat of the forbidden dance. The tango!

Oreo looked at her partner. “You do know how to tango, right?”

X-Raytor held out his hand. Oreo softly placed her fingers on his palm.

“But of course,” he said, twirling her towards him.

Roooooxanne!

Scarlett looked up. It was El Tango de Roxanne! From Moulin Rouge! Playing at that very moment! Out on the dance floor, she noticed Oreo and X-Raytor dancing as such a song demanded. As she watched, Oreo wrapped one leg around X-Raytor as he dipped her back.

I never knew X-Raytor was such a good dancer.

As much as she tried to resist, Scarlett couldn’t help humming along. It was a song from Moulin Rouge!

Roooooxanne!

Oreo tried to catch her breath. Talking would have to wait until later, during a less physical song. At the moment everything was about the dance.

They slowed with the music, stepping back and forth, challenging each other’s space and then retreating. It was starting to get warm, warmer than it should be. Oreo looked down and saw her skirt on fire.

“Ack! Fire!”

X-Raytor pushed Oreo over. “Stop, drop, and roll!”

Oreo took his advice, rolling around and trying to beat the fire out with her hands. X-Raytor disappeared and came running back with the punch bowl clutched in his hands. He dumped it over Oreo, not noticing the fire was already out.

Oreo coughed. “Thanks for that.” She looked around, trying to spot the source of the fire. Her eyes met Scarlett’s, and the other girl quickly looked away. Of course.

Taking X-Raytor’s hand, Oreo pulled herself to her feet. “I’ve come to the conclusion that Scarlett is completely insane.”

“What?”

"Nothing. Just…let me know if Scarlett’s plotting to kill me." Oreo looked down at her second ruined costume of the night. A large charred hole exposed even more of her thigh and the entire thing was stained from the red punch. "I’ve got to change my costume.”

***

X-Raytor walked over to Scarlett, who was sitting in a chair near the punch table. But before he could even open his mouth, Scarlett burst into tears.

"I swear I didn't mean to," she said between sobs.

"Scarlett, I--what the hell were you thinking?! Oreo could've died!"

"I told you, it was an accident! I just...I started singing along with the music. And I wasn't focused on anything, well, except how stupid I've been about this stuff with Oreo, and I was singing...you saw what happened. But I didn't mean to, I swear!"

X-Raytor raised his eyebrows, a facial gesture the sunglasses didn't obscure the same way the mask did. "She's terrified of you, Scarlett. To be honest, I don't blame her. Those flames were--"

"I need to find her. I need to apologize." Scarlett stood up, resolute. Some of the Justice Leaguers near them shrank back a few steps.

"You should probably wait until she gets back. Don't go after her or she might force feed you an Oreo and turn you into something safe, like a plant. Plants are defenseless."

"What do I do until then?"

"Well, Scarlett, I have a feeling the social could go downhill when Oreo comes back. And you still owe me at least one dance." One of the themes from Smallville (something by Lifehouse), began to play as Drew tried a slower song to help everyone mellow out a bit more.

"You're crazy, X-y," Scarlett said as she wiped her face dry.

"The popular vote here says that's you, Scarlett."

"Funny. Okay, yeah. Let's dance."

"And after you apologize to Oreo, I think we should head to the pool. We really shouldn't let these costumes go to waste when we could reenact that skinny-dippi--ow!" X-Raytor cried as Scarlett smacked him. "Jesus, you're violent."

"I am not."

"Yes, you ar--owie!"

"I am not."

"Fine, you're not. Now, come dance with me so I can cop a fe--" X-Raytor shut himself up before he said something that would get him violently smacked again.

***

Rosma finally stopped pounding on the door to Studmuffin and Eric’s room. Either he wasn’t in there, or he wasn’t going to answer her. She gave up and headed back upstairs, towards the social. Maybe he’d only stepped out for a minute and was already back inside.

Not that anyone noticed he was gone; there seemed to be plenty of other issues. But he was her date and she was not going to let him keep isolating himself from the group. It didn’t seem to be helping him any.

Rosma arrived back at the social and looked around. Several people seemed to be missing and Studmuffin was still one of them.

“Have you seen Studmuffin?” she asked the nearest person, Netic.

“Nope. Did you try his room? Or on the top deck?”

“No, but I will. Thanks!” Rosma left the dance floor and headed for the stairs.

Studmuffin was indeed on the top deck, leaning over the railing at the very front of the boat.

“Don’t jump!” Rosma said, jokingly, navigating her way around one of the swimming pools.

He sighed and, without turning around, said, “You know I wouldn’t.”

“Yeah, I know,” she joined him, pretending not to be surprised that he spoke to her. “Coming back to the social?”

“I’m not in the mood.”

“But everyone’s so glad to have you back. You used to make all the parties fun without taking off your clothes like X-Raytor. And, well, Eric. At least pretend and put in an appearance? It might make you feel better.”

No response.

“So you’re just going to stand here all night and look at the ocean?”

He tilted his head up. “No. Maybe I’ll look at the stars, too.”

Rosma linked her arm through his and put her head on his shoulder. “We missed you. You know that, right? I missed you. Do you mind if I stay and look with you?”

They stood there quietly, listening to the sounds of the water. They could vaguely hear the music from the party downstairs.

Studmuffin broke the silence. “Rosma, you know I can’t tell you what I found out. I can’t tell you where I’ve been, what I did, or what any of it means. I can’t. And they won’t go away and leave me alone. Always in my head…and…and…I just wish none of it ever happened.”

“Hey, I wish a lot of things this past year never happened, too. And I’m sure we’re not the only ones.”

“I want to forget it all,” he admitted.

“We can’t,” Rosma sighed. “At least not permanently. But maybe we can help each other forget for a little while?”

He glanced at her. “You mean…?”

“Yeah. No attachments, I’m not looking for anything meaningful or whatever. Just a night without having to remember.”

***

Oreo talked to herself as she stormed down the hall towards the room she and Rosma shared. Ruin her second costume, did they? Well she had something that would really show them. They’d be sorry they messed with Rainbow Brite.

She flung open the door to the room and then froze. She quickly spun back around and slammed it behind her. Halfway back to the party, she paused, thought to herself, and said “Ew!”

***

"This is ridiculous!" X-Raytor said. "I can't believe that they would stoop to using me as a little- little toy in their own stupid feud! I never asked to be part of it, you know! And between Scarlett and Oreo, too! Do they think I enjoy standing in the middle while they fight? Do they think I want to be their little guinea pig to test out ways to one-up each other on?! It's not right. It's not right and it's not decent and it's not fair to me or anyone else, and I will not have a part in it!"

Eric nodded sympathetically.

"Wait, wait, wait," X-Raytor said. "Let me try it again. I can say it with a straight face this time, I swear..."

***

Oreo wandered the ship for a bit, trying to come up with a new costume. Something with pants. Once again, nothing good had come from her wearing a skirt. She just had to walk in on Rosma and Studmuffin again. The first time was bad enough. One of the hazards of sharing a room with Rosma. They’d probably be going at it all night, too. There was no way Oreo was going back there tonight. She had to find a new place to sleep. The obvious choice was to commandeer Studmuffin’s bed. Who was his roommate? Eric? He’d just have to stay on his side of the room.

Oreo found herself in the galley, where she’d halfway expected to end up. Kitchens always had a calming effect on her. She’d stashed her Oreo satchel in the tiny room with a half-formed idea of getting some work done while she was on board. The bag was still where she tossed it: in the fridge behind the cheese drawer.

It held anything she might need as a superhero on the go. Chapstick, jackknife, sketchbook, ingredients, handkerchiefs, old ATM receipts, a comb, her student ID from the tenth grade, a giant safety pin she found under the couch, a pretty rock, movie tickets from five different movies, a photo of Rosma, a parking ticket, a book, the missing remote, her spare Oreo Avenger costume, various odds and ends, and finally, in a special pocket, her supply of Oreos.

Shivering, Oreo put on the cold costume. As lame as it was going as Oreo Avenger, she didn’t have any other choice. At least if this costume got destroyed, it wouldn’t make anyone else angry. She searched the cupboards looking for anything to make her costume less everyday. An apron and a burned spatula were the best she could come up with, transforming plain Oreo Avenger into Oreo Avenger with defective cooking equipment. Galleys didn’t offer much in the way of costume choices.

Before re-entering the dance floor, Oreo checked that her Oreos were ready. Just in case. Captain Seabiscuit wasn’t around to announce her, for which she was glad.

The party was still going strong. Someone had re-filled the punch bowl and, to judge from the glassy looks in some eyes, re-spiked.

Oreo grabbed a glass of punch and sat at one of the tables. Scarlett, she noted, was dancing.

A throat clearing behind made her jump. Right-Wing man stood there, looking uncomfortable.

“Um, would you like to dance?”

Oreo set her untouched glass of punch down. “Sure.”

***

“Hey Typho! Typho!” Drew called. Typho looked up from his cup of punch and smiled. “Want to take over for me? I need to get some fresh air.”

“Fo’ shizzle, dawg! That’s what I’m talkin’ about, yo!” Typho climbed up beside Drew. “What do I do, yo?”

“You sit here and make sure no one touches these computers. I already have a play list set for the next 15 minutes.”

“Yo, I got it under control.”

“Yea…” Drew said and escaped to the stairwell.

“Hey, wait up!” Netic called.

Drew turned around. “Oh, I’m just going top deck. I think the music should be safe.”

“Can’t I join you? I think if I don’t get out of here now, my ears are going to burn off.” She fell into step beside Drew. “MC’s a great dancer and all, but I could hardly hear the music.” She laughed.

“I’m not much of one for dancing,” Drew said as she reached the top level. She walked to the railing and leaned over. “Wow, it was getting really stuffy in there.”

“Maybe that’s because you confined yourself to a corner surrounded by wires and big black boxes. Man, your senior Prom must have sucked if you acted anything like that then.”

“I didn’t go.”

“Oh.” Netic paused. “Hey, watch this!” She pulled some coins out of her pocket and threw them overboard. Instead of hitting the water with a ‘plunk!’ (like they would in most cases), the coins skimmed the surface for several seconds, spinning in elaborate designs before disappearing under the inky surface. Drew raised an eyebrow. “You want to?”

“I’ll pass.”

“Your loss.” Netic threw another handful of coins. These circled one another, almost swarming together, before hitting the water. Drew laughed. “What?”

“It’s Physics, you’re making them move like---nevermind.” She stopped suddenly, a part of her realizing that Netic could never comprehend-but…

“No, what?”

Drew sat down on a nearby chair and thought for a moment. “Okay, it’s like this…” she began. Netic sat down on another chair and listened as she levitated a coin in her palm.

***

The quiet was an odd, eerie thing. It was too quiet. The silence couldn’t even be classified as pin-drop. Normally, under mute conditions, the static pressure of the atmosphere would begin to assert itself against the eardrum - but even that was absent. It was almost as if the very molecules in the air had been stretched apart, diluted to the point that no sound could travel between them.

It was, therefore, an even stranger thing when his voice came out unaltered in sharp contrast to the backdrop.

“So… where do I come into all of this?” Isomorphix queried.

The yacht and the rest of the ocean as far as Iso could see still remained a perpetual black-and-white photograph. Though he was technically standing on the upper deck of the ship, the vessel and the rest of his surroundings seemed surreal. Abstract. As if they weren’t even really there. The swordsman was willing to bet that even if he continued to walk past the guardrails, he would not fall into the ocean.

“As you know, when I imbued young Victoria with her abilities, the decision was not my own. I cannot interfere. Not, at least, without proper consent.”

The Jinni’s voice, unlike Iso’s, was only amplified; it positively boomed in the stillness.

This Jinni, Jinn, or d’Jinn… ‘Rick’… whatever he called himself, had given Iso the details about who he was, his relation to the Justice League, and what he wanted. And, for the most part, Iso couldn’t find any faults in the supernatural being’s story. In fact, he could even recall the Leaguer stating that she had gotten her powers from a ‘magikal jinni.’

Iso suppressed a bit of scorn.

“So you mean to tell me that an all-powerful Genie such as -“

“Jinni.”

“What?”

“I am a Jinni.”

Pause.

“That’s what I said…”

“No, you said Genie. I am a Jinni. J-I-N-N-I.”

Another pause.

“Common mistake. Happens all the time.”

Then, as an afterthought, “And I am hardly all-powerful.”

“As I was saying… You mean to tell me that a semi-all-powerful Jinni such as yourself cannot even do something of his own will? That you require mortals such as us to unlock your potential? That you need me to wish your request?”

“Yes.” Rick’s voice had a finality to it that would leave the harshest critic doubtless of the Jinn’s claim.

“Heh. And how do you expect to carry out this endeavor? Are you telling me you can raise the dead, Semi-all-powerful One? Even so - why would you be compelled?”

“Life and death are something that are beyond even the most powerful of us. Yes, you are right. Even I cannot raise the dead - at least, not in the way that I would desire it. I could construct the body atom-by-atom, but what gives life is more than the sum of one’s parts. Your new-age magic - science, is it? - would claim that with all the proper matter in all the proper sequences, sentient life could be attained. If that were so, I would not have to do what I will ultimately have to do.

“Nay, the best I could construct would be a shell. Hollow and empty. Worthless. Devoid of the life-essence… the spirit… the soul. Normally - normally - I would not be able to accomplish this feat. But I sense that the parting of the two halves has been recent. I can still feel the wisps of the life-essence clinging to this mortal realm. It will be enough. All that would be required is another life-essence to set it in place after the body has been prepared.

“As for why I would be compelled… must you really ask? Thorough out the countless ages, I have witnessed a great, many things. I have seen great acts of valor as well as the most wretched, cruelest of villainy. I have observed the patterns of your people ebb, flow, and weave through the times. And of all the masters that I have had, and of all the persons who have entrapped me in magikal containers of bondage, I have not met one who struck me as much as did that girl on that one blink in Eternity. She was innocent. Pure. And as much as I had become fond of her, I knew it could not last. For this world has ways to desolate the kindest of souls.”

He gave Isomorphix a knowing, self-assured look before continuing.

“So I gave her a touch of what I hoped would keep her unblemished when she made her wish. After feeling as if I had done some good in the nothing that is everything that is a single life, I have come to learn of her untimely demise. Would you not wish for the same thing?”

Iso shrugged off the Jinni’s long-winded jargon. It was far too eccentric, even for him. Instead of answering, he asked another question of his own:

“Why me?”

Rick didn’t respond. He only considered the man dressed in black with a hint of interest.

“Let’s assume your reason is justified. Why not ask someone else on this ship? I’m sure there are many others who would be glad to oblige you.”

The Jinni’s response was a simple one, “Why not?”

“Why not you? ” Rick continued. “Do you still doubt my person? Or, is it something else?”

The being lost all hints of humor, and his face turned serious as he looked down into Iso’s eyes.

“Do I need to delve deeper into those ravaged thoughts of yours? No… not those calm collected ones on the surface. The other ones. They lie deeper.”

Isomorphix visibly stiffened.

“No? Forgotten so easily? Let me remind you…”

FLASH!

A courtyard of stone… verdant hedges…


The vision flared away as quickly as it had come.

“Look inside yourself, feeble human… and gain that which you have lost. You cannot keep running from yourself forever, Ale -“

“I thought you were trying to get your wish, Jinni,” Iso cut him off coldly.

He had no desire to continue playing this game with Rick.

Rick only nodded, “You need only wish it, and it shall be done.”

“Ahem.”

“Oh… right. I nearly forgot.”

With a snap of the Jinni’s fingers, the bouquet of flowers still grasped in Iso’s hand reverted to his trusty katana. Iso slid the sword through his belt with a hint of relief.

“Alright. Do it.”

“Ahem,” Rick repeated Iso’s own comment. “You have to wish it.”

Isomorphix sighed mentally.

“Alright. I wish that Victoria Grahm be brought back to life.”

“And it shall be done…” Rick said, rising from his recliner.

For a moment, it didn’t seem as if anything was happening. Isomorphix was about to voice his complaint when he heard it - the rumbling of distant thunder. The sound seemed to roll in from all directions, converging on the yacht.

There are no rain clouds, he thought, scanning the sky.

Indeed, the heavens still resembled the stilled grayscale version of their former state. But then what was…

The Jinni! An intense look of concentration etched the face that still appeared as if it belonged to Mr. Clean. He glowed. Not visibly, as would a firefly. It was that aura that Iso had felt about the Jinn earlier - only far, far more powerful. It radiated in gusts that would have torn the vigilante to shreds had it been focused on him. A bright beacon in the middle of the mundane, the Jinni served as the focal point for the gathering storm.

Suddenly, a bolt of electricity! It flew down the sky from no clear origin, and struck Rick square in the chest. Instead of incinerating the Jinni, it only caused him to swell. His muscles bulged against the thin silk of his Hawaiian T-shirt. His entire body arched backwards, and with a mighty bunching of his biceps, the clothing about him ripped into strips of fabric. Waist down, the apparition had formed a haphazard, smoky trail.

Another bolt! Three more! They struck him again and again, as if he were the lightning rod to end all lightning rods, until it appeared as if the electrical surges were emanating from the Jinni himself. He snapped forward again, his face visible, and…

His eyes! They were completely empty… black pits. But, no! They were dotted with stars… planets, comets, and suns forming rotating systems forming clusters forming galaxies forming universes forming…

Suddenly, there was a loud thunderclap followed by an impossibly bright light. Isomorphix shielded his eyes with his hands as the brilliant flash culminated to zenith, and then…

Calm. The sloshing sound of water flowing against steel, the flutter of music from the party, and even the serene of the night air against his ears all came back to him. Above, the stars twinkled brightly as color bled back into the world.

Isomorphix snapped his head around, taking in his surroundings. Everything was as it was before.

But Ahud’ruk, last of the race of d’Jinn, had vanished into the night.